Parenting Possibilities: The Chinese Finger Trap
How to Stop a Power Struggle
My youngest son will be 6 in six days. He is bursting into life with passion and strength and is becoming keenly aware of what his likes and dislikes are, his trigger points and what he values most.
This past spring though it seemed like his trigger points were getting the best of him and he was becoming upset on an unusually frequent basis. Often his emotions were displayed as anger. My partner and I noticed increased feet stomping, door slamming, fighting with his brother, and refusing to do certain things. His Moms were losing patience and responding with frustration and anger as well. Something had to change.
Around the same time period, our oldest son brought home a toy that looked like a small woven bamboo cylinder. He asked me to try it. All I had to do was put my two index fingers in each end and then pull my fingers back out. When I pulled to get out, the cylinder became tighter and actually trapped my fingers. I stopped pulling because I wasn’t getting free and I worried I would break it if I continued to pull…
My son then showed me that to get free and unstuck; all I had to do was relax my fingers towards each other which actually loosened the trap! It was the exact opposite of what I expected to work. Since then, I have thought a lot about this small simple cylinder which I learned is named a “Chinese Finger Trap.” It occurred to me that the concept of the trap may be an extremely effective tool in parenting.
For example, one day our youngest had earned a half an hour of computer game time. When the 30 minutes came to an end, he did not turn it off. I reminded him that the time was up. No response. I asked (pulled) again. “Time to get off now please.” “I AM NOT DONE”, he loudly retorted. I pull again, “There will be a consequence if you do not stick to our agreement,” I say in a louder voice feeling tense and disrespected now.
He does finally get off but slams the computer shut causing it to make a worrisome buzzing sound. As my son and I looked at each other we both knew that he may have just damaged my computer beyond repair. We also both knew how awful that would be.
Before I reacted, I luckily remembered the finger trap and realized that I would only get us more intertwined in the conflict if I burst out with anger and worry even though I felt that way inside. Having caught myself I decided to get down on my knees to change the power dynamic and be less threatening. I used a soft voice to express my concern. I let him know that his refusal to turn off the computer and act out his anger to the point of damaging something was not okay.
As my son stood blinking with surprise at my change in approach, he shifted as well. He sincerely apologized for slamming the computer and asked if it was fixable. He quietly watched me restart it and waited with me to see the result. The computer was fine and we both took a deep breath. We then sat on the floor together and I calmly told him that even though the computer is not damaged, there would still be a consequence of no computer use all week for what had transpired. He did not burst out in tears or try to convince me otherwise. He actually just nodded, accepting the consequence and then went to his room on his own and played quietly for sometime. It was a lesson learned for us both.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shana Hiranandani shares a home with her two boys, her partner of 12 years, a big dog and a small cat in the Pioneer Valley of Western MA. Shana earned a B.A. in Psychology from UMass Amherst and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England College. Shana is a Board Certified Life and Career Coach, offering consultations from her office in Florence, MA. Her monthly column offers parenting perspectives from a Jewish-Indian-American, 2-mommy household.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Casey Fleser]